School nurses more on guard as allergies, concussions rise
Quaker Valley High School nurse Aimee Benedict remembers two years ago, when an allergic reaction nearly turned deadly.
The student's lips were swollen as she struggled for breath and didn't know why. But Benedict recognized the symptoms and reached for an epinephrine shot.
“Because we had standing orders for EpiPens here, it literally has saved lives,” Benedict said.
The number of students with special health care needs has “increased dramatically” over the past decade, as students are diagnosed with increasingly complex medical problems and need intricate medical equipment and “complicated treatments,” according to the National Association of School Nurses.
Veteran nurses in local school districts have adapted and saved lives in the process.
Moon Area Middle School nurse Beth Rose said she has seen firsthand an increase of students with allergies since she was hired 17 years ago.
“There's allergies to everything now,” Rose said. “When I worked in a hospital, I never saw a peanut allergy.”
Benedict said she used an epinephrine shot on a student for the first time two years ago and has used five more since.
The number of reported concussions in local schools also has increased, as a result of 2012 state legislation that requires assessments by either a licensed physician or neuropsychologist.
Quaker Valley School District officials 75 concussions the first year laws were enacted, Benedict said.
When a student is diagnosed with a concussion, school nurses act as a conduit between doctors and teachers during the recovery process. Doctors' orders often call for a reduced workload as the student is monitored for two weeks, or sometimes two years.
An open line of communication must be kept with parents, whether it's for sports-related injuries or daily medications, Pine-Richland High School nurse Sue Leonberg said.
And while 15 years ago, conversations primarily took place in person or by telephone, emails have since become just as prevalent.
“You have to make sure to answer emails in a timely manner and appropriately,” Leonberg said.
Rose said she was surprised by the many roles of the job when she transitioned from hospital nurse to school nurse.
“I thought I'd leave the hospital to apply Band-Aids,” Rose said. “ It didn't turn out that way.”
Kyle Lawson is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.